No, not flowers, but the stuff from which bread is made. Some are superfoods, some are gluten-free, and all of these raw material sources unaltered by science. All, that is, except one, but it’s an isolated instance, and one that gives merit to the edibility of this long-lost grain.

Did I say lost? More like hidden in plain sight…

Barnyardgrass (Echinochloa crus-galli) benefits [1]  [2]: A type of millet, (a.k.a. cockspur grass, Japanese millet, or barnyard grass), and one of the world’s most obnoxious weeds produces dried grain numerous cultures have eaten since primitive times. It’s Asian in origin (millet-type), but said treasured by West Coast American Indian tribes for winter use (grass seed-type). You can cook the hulled seed whole by roasting, boiling, or popping – or grinding into flour. Proven to increase HDL cholesterol (Japanese study 1997), and balance blood sugar, it’s widely processed as pearled grain in Asia and India with potential as all-purpose flour and malting grain.

Found in all 48 states and across southern Canada, access isn’t hard, but hulling a millet-type is, requiring special handling or processing equipment. Japanese Millet (E. crus-galli) and India’s Barnyard Millet (E. frumantacea) is low in calories, heart-healthy, cancer-fighting, and rich in antioxidants, lignons, fiber, and iron with a low glycemic index. Far more than subsistence food, given the herbal healing powers attributed to the plant, it’s entering superfoods territory. Don’t let the switch in Echinochloa species fool you, there are several millet types in the family. And E. esulenta, cultivated in Asia, is a domesticated form of this so-called weed.

Mesquite (Prosopis spp.) benefits [1]  [2]: Native to arid climates, 3 types of Mesquites are indigenous to the US, and used by Indian tribes as a snack, sweetener, beverage flavoring, and meal or flour source. The gluten-free flour makes excellent molasses, tortillas, flapjacks, and baked goods. If you gather your own pods, the Velvet and Honey Mesquites have the best flavor.

All parts of the plant have medicinal properties. Packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, gums, alkaloids and phytochemicals… the low-fat bean pods land high on the superfoods list. The exceptionally high dietary fiber and protein content, and its low glycemic index (balances blood sugar) make it perfect for diabetic consumption. The antioxidants (20% of cocoa’s content) give foods containing this flour an extended shelf life – over 7mg per gram according to a recent study on cocoa flavanols. If you don’t live in the Southwest, you can buy mesquite flour.

Wild Amaranthus (Amaranthus palmeri) benefits [1] [2]: Higher in protein than wheat, corn, or rice – and more digestible than wheat, soy, and milk – superweeds and superfoods cross paths again. You don’t need a special kind of amaranth to enjoy good flour flavor. And don’t think the wild plants are less edible than cultivated types. In fact, their boldness in the face of Roundup is a signal of possible strength in health benefits. Amaranth refuses to be wiped out by the enemy, making it’s strong antioxidants content no surprise.

superfoods

It’s high biological value offers vitamins A, C, and K, along with a minimum of 20% of daily protein, fiber, and minerals: manganese, magnesium, selenium, and iron… after cooking. Containing over twice the folic acid of wheat, this gluten-free grain replacement contains a number of phytochemicals. Easy to harvest and cook, some species also double as a vegetable source, including the Palmer’s Amaranth indigenous to the Americas. All parts of the plant are edible, highly nutritious, and the leaves taste much like spinach. Toast it, saute it, boil it, pop it, or grind it. Safe and tasty, raw or cooked… in one form or another. Monsanto’s pigweed bane equals super-duper food. (Just don’t harvest near monocropping activities.)

Acorns (Quercus spp.) benefits [1]  [2]: It’s only modern man in developed nations that think these are food for wildlife. Likely conditioning as the wonders of agriculture and consumerism thickened… oak trees don’t cooperate with mono-cropping practices! A staple of many cultures going back into the mists of time, the acorn is rich in vitamins and dietary fiber. As a food, they’re heart-healthy, blood sugar regulating bone builders that promote growth and healing while boosting your energy and metabolism.

superfoods

Talk about superfoods, no empty calories here. Unlike squirrels, you can’t just collect them and enjoy. The tannins they contain make them bitter, but are easily removed through boiling. You can turn them into a non-allergenic nut butter, but acorn flour offers a gluten-free way to bake breads and any other foods that call for grain flour.

Just like a cereal grain crop, getting good flour means harvesting wild grains or seed when totally ripe in the fall. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure your weed identification is correct. Internet research will help, but it might be wise to take a sample of the plant and seed head to your local Extension Service office for a double check. Eating the wrong thing could make you sick.

More Info:

Images courtesy of Matt Lavin,  Ghost32Writer, Corn+Soybean Digest,and Brooklyn Feed (respectively).

Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Content crafter and Senior Editor at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home. (Some feel she's got a perennial obsession, others say the problem is tomato plants.)

If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.
Tammy Clayton

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